Moonstruck, Vol. 1: Magic to Brew

Information

Goodreads: Moonstruck
Series: Moonstruck #1
Source: Library
Published: 2018

Official Summary

Werewolf barista Julie and her new girlfriend go on a date to a close-up magic show, but all heck breaks loose when the magician casts a horrible spell on their friend Chet. Now it’s up to the team of mythical pals to stop the illicit illusionist before it’s too late.

Collects issues 1 through 5.

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Review

The premise of Moonstruck intrigued me, as did the cute art style. Julie is a werewolf barista, who is ashamed of her transformations. But she meets a new girlfriend, another werewolf, who is proud of who she is. Together, the two discover a magician–but when he casts a spell on their friend, they have to go on a mission to track him down to reverse the curse. There should be plenty of mystery, action, and drama, right? Well, not so much. Moonstruck ends up being a rather lackluster graphic novel with only the sketchiest of plots.

The biggest strength of the book is arguably the characters, which, unfortunately, is not saying a lot. Readers get a broad understandings of who the characters are, but never get to delve into their hopes, fears, or motivations. For example, it is clear that Julie is embarrassed about being a werewolf because she will run away when she transforms. But she and her friends never talk about it. Is there a stigma against werewolves where Julie lives? Does she just think looking all hairy is awkward? Readers never know.

The other characters also lack real depth, and seem to be present mainly to forward the plot. Chet, for example, is the catalyst for the events of the story, while Julie’s new girlfriend undergoes an unexpected personality change–turning quite angry–towards the end of the book, apparently just to add a bit of drama. I wanted to love these characters, but the story does not give readers much to work with.

The plot is also sorely lacking, most notably during the climax of the story. How exactly Julie and her friends manage to defeat the magician is very unclear. There is no discernible plan for his capture and his defeat comes unexpectedly and suddenly. It is a real letdown to read an entire book only to have it fall apart so decisively at the ending. This, more than anything, caused me to be disappointed with the story, and to cancel my library holds on the next two volumes.

The idea of magical creatures living in an ordinary world, serving coffee, forming bands, and falling in love is cute. Unfortunately, the execution of this story just isn’t there. I’ll be looking for another supernatural tale to enchant me this season.

2 star review

The Pearl Thief by Elizabeth Wein

Information

Goodreads: The Pearl Thief
Series: Code Name Verity #1
Age Category: Young Adult
Source: Library
Published: 2017

Summary

Fifteen-year-old Julia Beaufort-Stuart is back at her grandfather’s estate for one last summer before it is sold. She expects to be busy doing nothing more than packing boxes, but ends up in the hospital the first day she arrives. She cannot remember what happened, but it seems like her injury might be linked to the employee missing from the estate. Everyone suspects the Travellers who have, for years, come to help on the estate and gone pearl fishing in the river, but Julia knows that the McEwens are innocent. Things start to look bad for Julia’s new friends, however, when a body is found in the river.

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Review

Having not yet read Code Name Verity, The Pearl Thief was going to be, for me, a fun period mystery more than anything else. However, I have to admit that “fun” and “mystery” do not accurately describe the story I found. Though mysterious things are happening around Julie at her grandfather’s estate, her interests include flirting, driving, and wandering–not detecting. She simply stumbles across clues periodically until the mystery is cleared up by accident, with little intent on her part or, really, on anybody’s. In fact, no one even knows that there is a Pearl Thief, so the title is a bit misleading. In short, The Pearl Thief is a coming-of-age story whose primary interest comes from being set in Scotland and including much information on Scottish river pearls. It will appeal to fans of Code Name Verity or readers who like travel stories, but it will likely disappoint those looking for an actual mystery.

I really enjoy mysteries, so I have to admit that I find myself in the camp of those who will be disappointed by this story. From the summary, I got the idea that Julie would want to play detective as soon as she realized that an employee was missing off the estate, along some pearls. However, no one seems too concerned with the man’s disappearance–not his employers, not the police, and certainly not Julia. No one knows that he apparently absconded with some pearls, either. In fact, no one even remembers that the pearls existed! Julia does have vague memories of them, but brushes them aside. Readers will likely realize pretty quickly from all this what is happening (there must be a reason certain people did not see fit to report an employee as missing), but Julia does not–and she does not care, either.

Fifteen-year-old Julie is really just concerned with having a good time–and I don’t blame her. She has fun trying to flirt with an older man, and she spends her days traipsing about the countryside and trying to woo Ellen, a standoffish Traveller. The Travellers are some of the more interesting characters, considered as a group. Elizabeth Wein depicts just some of the suspicion and abuse they face from society because of their iterant lifestyle–even though it is clear that they contribute a lot to the local economy and should be valued members of the community. An author’s note at the end gives more information about and context for the Travellers, including their current situation.

Scotland, its culture, and its history end up being the true stars of this book, being drawn more vividly than even the characters. Julia is sort of a standard teen who enjoys having a good time. Ewen McEwen is almost nonexistent, despite his prominence in the official summary. Ellen McEwen is more provocative, but does not end up having enough of a personality to be truly intriguing. But real love for Scotland and its heritage leaps off every page, and readers will enjoy immensely the opportunity to learn about the moors, river pearls, and, yes, the Travellers. Make no mistake; Scotland is the protagonist here, not Julia.

The Pearl Thief taught me a lot about Scotland, and I loved learning more about Scottish river pearls, since I had not known they existed. However, the official summary mislead me into thinking the book would be a mystery, when it is really a coming-of-age story. I still enjoyed the book, but I think I would have enjoyed it more, had I not been expecting something entirely different.

3 Stars

The Last Legacy by Adrienne Young

The Last Legacy

Information

Goodreads: The Last Legacy
Series: None (companion to Fable)
Age Category: Young Adult
Source: Library
Published: 2021

Summary

Bryn Roth has waited her whole life for the letter that arrives on her eighteenth birthday from her uncle Henrik. Now, finally, she can return to Bastian and take her rightful place in the family. But the Roths play a dangerous game, creating fake gemstones for trade, and they have many enemies in the city and abroad. If Bryn wants to survive, she will have to create her own stake to bring in money for the family. She just didn’t count on losing her heart in the process.

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Review

After reading the Fable duology, I was thrilled to be able to return with Adrienne Young to the dangerous world of the Unnamed Sea. The Last Legacy mentions characters readers have seen before, but works as a standalone, exploring the Roth family, their trade in fake gems, and their new desire to be accepted by respectable society as part of the merchant class. The stakes are high as Bryn attempts to navigate this new world. Readers who love their YA fantasy filled with dark secrets and intrigue will devour The Last Legacy.

The Last Legacy has the opportunity to expand on the world of the Unnamed Sea, as readers learn more about the city of Bastian, and the traders and merchants who vie for supremacy there. Unfortunately, however, much of Young’s vivid worldbuilding is lost in this story, as it focuses more on Bryn’s budding romance than it does on anything else. Even Bryn’s concerns about finding her stake in the family and being accepted by the Roths feel like a bit of an afterthought, as if the story exists mainly to give readers more Ezra (a character from the former duology)–and to maybe give Ezra his chance at happiness.

The romance, however, feels very lackluster, just as it does in the Fable duology. The timeline here is very fast and the story slim, so Bryn and Ezra do not actually know each other–or anything about each other. They are inexplicably drawn to each other, and I guess readers are supposed to accept that passion or lust for someone they just met is enough for the two to risk their lives to be together. Personally, however, I could not buy into this, so I felt no real emotional pull for the pair.

The actual intrigue also proves a little disappointing. The story does have its twist and turns, with Bryn trying to figure out whom she can trust and whom she cannot. Savvy readers, however, will know when Bryn is being played long before she does, which makes the story somewhat less gripping. Furthermore, the book is so short that the drama feels underdeveloped. Perhaps it would have been less of a problem had I not had higher expectations based on Fable and Namesake.

Still, despite its flaws, The Last Legacy still manages to entertain. I kept reading because I wanted to know what would happen next and because I wanted to see Bryn succeed and free herself from her family. The book may not quite live up to its predecessors, but it likely will still please fans who wish to return to the Unnamed Sea.

3 Stars

Roxy by Neal Shusterman and Jarrod Shusterman (ARC Review)

Information

Goodreads: Roxy
Series: None
Age Category: Young Adult
Source: Giveaway – Goodreads
Publication Date: November 9, 2021

Official Summary

The freeway is coming.

It will cut the neighborhood in two. Construction has already started, pushing toward this corridor of condemned houses and cracked concrete with the momentum of the inevitable. Yet there you are, in the fifth house on the left, fighting for your life.

Ramey, I.

The victim of the bet between two manufactured gods: the seductive and lethal Roxy (Oxycontin), who is at the top of her game, and the smart, high-achieving Addison (Adderall), who is tired of being the helpful one, and longs for a more dangerous, less wholesome image. The wager—a contest to see who can bring their mark to “the Party” first—is a race to the bottom of a rave that has raged since the beginning of time. And you are only human, dazzled by the lights and music. Drawn by what the drugs offer—tempted to take that step past helpful to harmful…and the troubled places that lie beyond.

But there are two I. Rameys—Isaac, a soccer player thrown into Roxy’s orbit by a bad fall and a bad doctor and Ivy, his older sister, whose increasing frustration with her untreated ADHD leads her to renew her acquaintance with Addy.

Which one are you?

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Review

Roxy, being an exploration of the opioid crisis, is one of those books where the reviews are going to be dominated by discussion of the message of the book, rather than discussion of the story. Already on Goodreads, before the book’s release, one can see reviews ranging from “It’s against drug abuse, so 5 stars!” to “It doesn’t mirror my experience with drugs, so 1 star!” I thought long and hard about whether the book even is trying to tell a story, or just send teen readers a message, and I ultimately I had to conclude that the story just isn’t quite there. The book is interesting and experimental in some ways, but the plot and characters are completely secondary to the commentary on drugs, which is disappointing.

The choice to personify drugs is interesting. There are the main ones, Roxy and Addison, but Shusterman and Shusterman add references to nearly every drug you can think of and even gives some of them their own “interludes” in the book so you can see them as “people.” On one hand, this is extremely allegorical. And allegory is something today’s readers often make fun of, like, “Ha ha, look as those ridiculous medieval writers personifying Fortitude and Charity.” But maybe it’s cool to readers when the allegorical is about drugs.

Personifying them, however, means the drugs aren’t necessarily represented as all bad because they’re “people” with strengths, weaknesses, flaws, hopes, dreams, doubts. I’m sure that makes sense in terms of representing why people do drugs (they seem appealing for whatever reasons), but I imagine readers wanting a very, very strong “these drugs are bad and you certainly should not do them and become addicted” message might think it’s undermined by making the drugs seem occasionally like kind of nice people who make good points about things.

Now, ostensibly, the main characters of the book aren’t just the drugs; there’s also siblings Isaac and Ivy. Isaac is a smart, well-behaved kid who gets his hands on Roxy after busting his ankle, while Ivy is a party girl with a drug dealing boyfriend who can only get back on track once she starts hanging with Addison again. Part of the “hook” of the story is supposed to be having the readers guess which of the two becomes a complete victim of their drug of choice, but there was never any mystery for me, and I felt no suspense in the book. I also just wasn’t too invested in either of their lives, since it all just seemed like a vehicle to pontificate on drugs.

Some of the most interesting commentary in the book, simply because it’s subtle and not spelled out like everything else, is what on earth’s going on with Isaac and Ivy’s parents, letting both their kids get addicted to drugs. The parents are in a weird space where they’re sort of present in their kids’ lives but seem bad at actually . . . parenting. Like they yell at Ivy for sneaking out and having a terrible sketchy boyfriend, but their “parenting” is just arguing with her and not actually solving anything. There’s possibly some cautionary tale for parents in here.

So, Roxy has an interesting premise. I’m not sure it does what readers will want it to do which is BOTH tell a good story and suggest to teens that while drugs might seem alluring and it’s possible for anyone, not just “bad” kids, to become addicted, they should really avoid drugs. However, the story itself is just really buried under the message, and the fact that the personified drugs don’t really seem that bad means any anti-drug message is not necessarily as strong as it could be.

Briana
3 Stars

So Many Beginnings by Bethany C. Morrow

So Many Beginnings

Information

Goodreads: So Many Beginnings
Series: None (but part of the Remixed Classics line)
Age Category: Young Adult
Source: Library
Published: 2021

Summary

It’s 1863 and the American Civil War is at its midpoint as four sisters and their mother work to make a life for themselves in the Freedmen’s Colony at Roanoke Island. There’s Meg, a teacher who longs to be a mother. Jo, a young woman with a way with words. Beth, a talented seamstress. And Amy, an aspiring dancer. Life is not easy, but the girls support each other through it all.

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Review

So Many Beginnings is a fascinating retelling of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women in that it takes inspiration from Alcott’s work, but chooses to tell a story all its own. While the basic idea is the same–four sisters are coming of age during the Civil War–almost everything else has changed. Readers cannot expect to see similar incidents in the book, even of something as vague as a failed picnic or a party gone awry, nor can they expect the romances to follow the same patterns. This is a wholly new tale with wholly new characters. It is one, however, that seems almost more concerned with getting history right than it seems concerned with telling a story.

Like many works of historical fiction published today, So Many Beginnings is eager to teach its readers about the proper way to view the past. In so doing, it sometimes feels anachronistic. The characters cannot be presented as actual people from the 1860s because readers might mistakenly think that their views, which are now considered outdated or even offensive, are something they should agree with. So the book is full of characters musing about how to interpret certain moments in history or even brief mentions of things like “therapy” for soldiers–even though PTSD was not recognized or treated in quite the same way as it is now–because educating impressionable readers is the focus of the book.

Many readers will likely enjoy the informative aspects of the book. The Freedmen’s Colony on Roanoke Island is not necessarily a part of history taught in schools, so Morrow takes care to bring it to the forefront. The characters have many conversations about what is happening, how they see the Union as failing them, and how they wish well-meaning white folks would actually listen to them–the people living there–and give them agency. Jo also begins a newsletter about the colony, with excerpts periodically provided in the book. Readers may just be inspired by all the information to keep on researching this overlooked part of history.

The characters, however, seem to fall a bit by the wayside during the story. And, in a seeming effort to make the book happier, Morrow removes much of the conflict that makes the original characters come alive. Here, Jo does not feel sorrow at potentially losing Meg to a suitor, but whole-heartedly supports her in getting married. Jo does not even feel much annoyance at Amy (Amethyst), who is made more winning and less insufferable. Beth (Bethlehem), as in apparently every retelling of Little Women, does not die and actually has more confidence and vision for a future life than any of the other characters. The picture is of a loving, supportive family who almost never disagree or have any problems. Any slight disturbances they feel are quickly forgiven and forgotten. It makes the family seem ideal, yes, but what is Jo without a temper and without the fear of losing her sisters? What is Amy without her pride and desire for wealth? Conflict and flaws are what makes a story interesting.

Even the writing style proves a bit disappointing. The sentences often seem stilted. Unusual word orders occur frequenly, making it necessary to reread parts to gain understanding. And Jo, who is supposed to be a magician with words, talks in an overly elaborate and formal way that seems more awkward than anything else.

I had been looking forward to this retelling for months, but I have to admit that I found the reading experience a bit lackluster. I enjoyed learning more about history, but did not find the story itself engaging, and had trouble deciphering some of the prose. It is worth checking out for readers who enjoy historical fiction and who want to learn more about the Freedmen’s Colony at Roanoke Island. But a nonfiction book would likely work just as well, with the benefit that readers will not be expecting more than a factual account.

3 Stars

Sabrina the Teenage Witch by Kelly Thompson, et al

Sabrina the Teenage Witch

Information

Goodreads: Sabrina the Teenage Witch
Series: Sabrina the Teenage Witch Issues #1-5
Source: Library
Published: 2019

Official Summary

Sabrina is a teen witch who’s struggling with balancing the double life of high school and her burgeoning powers. Newly relocated to Greendale with her aunts Hilda and Zelda (also witches), Sabrina is trying to make the best of being the new girl in town which so far includes two intriguing love interests, an instant rivalry, a couple of misfits that could turn into BFFs, and trying to save the high school (and maybe the world) from crazy supernatural events. NBD!

Sabrina the Teenage Witch collects issues #1-5 of the ongoing series and features bonus content including the first full issue of Archie and Sabrina written by Nick Spencer and Mariko Tamaki, with art by Sandy Jarrell and Jenn St-Onge.

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Review

Reading about The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, a supernatural horror take on the teenage witch, initially made me leery of picking up this title. I do not care for books that are too dark, including pacts with demons and other things possibly too terrible to name. I just want a fun witchy tale for Halloween, not something that will give me nightmares. But Kelly Thompson’s Sabrina the Teenage Witch just hit the spot, presenting a Sabrina who is involved in magical mysteries, but absolutely nothing too scary.

The artwork presents Sabrina as a cute, quirky teenager, eager to fit in with her human peers, but also excited to use magic. Her aunts want her to be careful, but a few simple spells can’t hurt, right? Sabrina’s little spells, of course, quickly bring huge trouble as she discovers that her school seems to be some sort of supernatural hotspot. Readers will follow Sabrina’s adventures avidly as she tries to navigate normal parts of high school, like dealing with mean girls, while secretly investigating a magical mystery.

The main weak spot of the story is admittedly its conclusion. The villain is revealed rather hastily, with only vague motivations readers cannot know too much about. And Sabrina ends up saving the day, but only because her aunts happen to have a storeroom of incredibly rare magical artifacts. Sabrina does not really get to show off her powers or what she can do with them. She wins largely because she was better equipped than the bad guy. And this is disappointing.

Even so, I enjoyed Thompson’s Sabrina the Teenage Witch and its mix of the magical with the everyday. I want to know more about Sabrina’s life. I want to see which cute guy she’ll finally choose to go out with. I want to know if she gets to learn more powerful magic. This version of Sabrina is perfect for the reader looking for a book that has witches and magic, but is never very scary.

4 stars

Bright Ruined Things by Samantha Cohoe (ARC Review)

Bright Ruined Things

Information

Goodreads: Bright Ruined Things
Series: None
Source: ARC
Publication Date: October 26, 2021

Official Summary

Forbidden magic, a family secret, and a night to reveal it all…

The only life Mae has ever known is on the island, living on the charity of the wealthy Prosper family who control the magic on the island and the spirits who inhabit it. Mae longs for magic of her own and to have a place among the Prosper family, where her best friend, Coco, will see her as an equal, and her crush, Miles, will finally see her. Now that she’s eighteen, Mae knows her time with the Prospers may soon come to an end.

But tonight is First Night, when the Prospers and their high-society friends return to the island to celebrate the night Lord Prosper first harnessed the island’s magic and started producing aether – a magical fuel source that has revolutionized the world. With everyone returning to the island, Mae finally has the chance to go after what she’s always wanted.

When the spirits start inexplicably dying, Mae starts to realize that things aren’t what they seem. And Ivo, the reclusive, mysterious heir to the Prosper magic, may hold all the answers – including a secret about Mae’s past that she doesn’t remember. As Mae and her friends begin to unravel the mysteries of the island, and the Prospers’ magic, Mae starts to question the truth of what her world was built on.

In this YA fantasy, Samantha Cohoe wonderfully mixes magic and an atmospheric setting into a fantastically immersive world, with characters you won’t be able to forget.

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Review

The Tempest has never been my favorite Shakespeare play, but Cohoe takes the idea of a magical island where spirits are tamed to do a master’s bidding and builds her own story around questions of identity, belonging, power, and love that had me riveted and wanting to know how protagonist Mae’s journey would end. From her initial desire to learn magic for herself and ensure she could keep the island as her home to her ultimate questioning of everything she’s ever known, I was cheering for her to find herself and get the happy ending she deserves.

While the structure of the story and the characterization initially seem straightforward (Mae wants to learn magic, to stay on the island, to catch the eye of one of the Prosper boys), I quickly realized that everything was a bit more convoluted than I expected. And every time I thought I had a handle on what was happening, Cohoe managed to nuance it even more. Every time I thought, “Oh, this character is a jerk” or, “Oh, this is what will happen next,” Cohoe mixed things up. I experienced a roller coaster of emotions, not entirely sure which characters I should be rooting for or what outcome I should be hoping for, as Cohoe ultimately shows that everyone is multi-faceted, and a single bad (or good) act doesn’t define someone.

I find I’m often fairly good at predicting what will happen in books, so it’s nice when I’m genuinely taken by surprise — and I love that in Bright Ruined Things it’s not because there’s some wild climatic event I didn’t seen coming; it’s because the characters keep surprising me again and again with their thoughts and their motivations and their actions. (And their evolving characterization is natural; Cohoe isn’t making them do out of character things for the sake of plot.) I love how it made me constantly reassess the characters and try to figure out what they were doing and why, as well as what was important to them.

The setting is also a nice touch, though I wouldn’t call it the main draw. The island itself feels very real; I could picture it as I read, from the paths Mae likes to the run to the spirits that create never-ending music in the sky. The 1920s aspect feels more inconsequential. Cohoe does describe some fashion and art of the era that make it clear that’s when the story is occurring, but I think the marketing suggesting Bright Ruined Things has a Great Gatsby vibe might be overblown.

Overall, this is a fantastically thoughtful and engaging book that stands out as something different in the crowded YA market.

Briana

Defy the Night by Brigid Kemmerer

Information

Goodreads: Defy the Night
Series: Defy the Night #1
Age Category: Young Adult
Source: Library
Published: September 2021

Official Summary

The kingdom of Kandala is on the brink of disaster. Rifts between sectors have only worsened since a sickness began ravaging the land, and within the Royal Palace, the king holds a tenuous peace with a ruthless hand.

King Harristan was thrust into power after his parents’ shocking assassination, leaving the younger Prince Corrick to take on the brutal role of the King’s Justice. The brothers have learned to react mercilessly to any sign of rebellion–it’s the only way to maintain order when the sickness can strike anywhere, and the only known cure, an elixir made from delicate Moonflower petals, is severely limited.

Out in the Wilds, apothecary apprentice Tessa Cade is tired of seeing her neighbors die, their suffering ignored by the unyielding royals. Every night, she and her best friend Wes risk their lives to steal Moonflower petals and distribute the elixir to those who need it most–but it’s still not enough.

As rumors spread that the cure no longer works and sparks of rebellion begin to flare, a particularly cruel act from the King’s Justice makes Tessa desperate enough to try the impossible: sneaking into the palace. But what she finds upon her arrival makes her wonder if it’s even possible to fix Kandala without destroying it first.

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Review

Brigid Kemmerer has long written captivating YA contemporary, but she broke into the fantasy scene with the bestselling A Curse So Dark and Lonely (Cursebreakers #1), and she’s following up that success with Defy the Night, a book with a different setting but similar themes and moral questions. While the themes are familiar, the plot is different, and I enjoyed every minute reading about Tessa and her country and the people’s attempts to find healing and hope.

One of my biggest complaints about the Cursebreakers series (as much as I enjoyed it) is that the politics rarely made sense. I can tell that Kemmerer really wanted to address that here, and there are a lot of more explanations of the political system and why things are being done and why things that look like better options are not being done. While it’s still not perfect, I am much more satisfied with the explanations in Defy the Night, and I love how far Kemmerer has come in this regard.

On the flip side, she still has a fixation (like in Cursebreakers) with trying to create a morally gray love interest who does evil things and asking questions like whether the evil is necessary and whether the person is really bad, etc. It didn’t work out for me in Cursebreakers, and it’s still not working out for me here. There are often things I really do NOT think the love interest HAD to do and that there were clearly kinder options. I like the love interest as a whole, and I think the romance is quite swoon worthy, but I just don’t think this repeated theme of, “Are people who do evil things actually good?” is working out the way Kemmerer likely hopes it is for readers.

I enjoyed Tessa as a character, and while she’s introduced as some thieving badass scaling walls, that’s not her persona in most of the book. Her defining character seems to be kindness, and her hopes are for peace and healing. (In many ways, like the female characters in Cursebreakers. Sorry, I can’t stop drawing comparisons. They’re just too obvious.) I do love THIS recurring theme, that kindness is important and possibly more powerful than fear or violence or even cleverness.

The side characters really shine here, too, from the king to the Palace Master to Tessa’s friends at home. Some of them disappear from the narrative, only to come back stronger later and really add something to the narrative. Characterization and making readers care about the people in her books is truly one of Kemmerer’s strengths.

This book really isn’t Cursebreakers, as much as it reminds me of it. It’s a fast-paced fantasy with memorable characters that can stand on its own. It’s found a lot of fans already and is likely to find a lot more.

Briana
4 stars

The Curie Society by Heather Einhorn, Janet Harvey, Adam Staffaroni, Joan Hilty, Sonia Liao

The Curie Society Book Cover

Information

Goodreads: The Curie Society
Series: None (yet)
Age Category: Young Adult Graphic Novel
Source: Library
Published: April 27, 2021

Official Summary

A covert team of young women–members of the Curie society, an elite organization dedicated to women in STEM–undertake high-stakes missions to save the world.

An action-adventure original graphic novel, The Curie Society follows a team of young women recruited by an elite secret society–originally founded by Marie Curie–with the mission of supporting the most brilliant female scientists in the world. The heroines of the Curie Society use their smarts, gumption, and cutting-edge technology to protect the world from rogue scientists with nefarious plans. Readers can follow recruits Simone, Taj, and Maya as they decipher secret codes, clone extinct animals, develop autonomous robots, and go on high-stakes missions. 

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The Curie Society is an exciting and inspirational graphic novel that invites readers to see the potential of women in STEM and the potential of STEM to improve the world. While there was a risk the story could have been a bit too “on the nose” with its “women can be smart scientists, too!” message, the overall effect is not preachy but genuinely uplifting and celebratory, and the fact that the book includes actual science and discussion of science and formulas, rather than hand wavy explanations, is a big plus.

I do think The Curie Society suffers from one flaw I find affects a lot of graphic novels — which is that while the art and the premise and the side stories are all excellent, the overarching plot is a bit predictable and lackluster. The general gist is that the three protagonists (conveniently all roommates at college) need to go on a secret mission to stop some bad guys, but who the bad guys are and what their motives are is signaled practically from the start of the book.

Luckily, I enjoyed the book for other things. Each protagonist has her strengths (and flaws), and it’s fun seeing them as capable individuals (except the one who keeps flipping out and screaming in the face of danger!) and as a team. They do a good job of representing the diversity of students one finds at a college, in terms of class, race, interests, etc. They come together through the Curie Society but also through their excitement for learning, which gives the story some great college vibes, for readers looking for that in YA.

I also love that, though I did find the plot predictable, this does really read like a fully fleshed out story, which is not true of all the graphic novels I’ve tried. A lot of thought clearly went into all the details, the characters and their relationships, the art, the backstory, the potential future stories, etc.

This is just such a fun and smart read that I think it can find an audience in nearly anyone, but of course you’ll love it most if you like stories about STEM and college and secret societies saving the world.

Briana
4 stars

Dark and Shallow Lies by Ginny Myers Sain

Dark and Shallow Lies book cover

Information

Goodreads: Dark and Shallow Lies
Series: None
Published: August 31, 2021

Official Summary

A teen girl disappears from her small town deep in the bayou, where magic festers beneath the surface of the swamp like water rot, in this chilling debut supernatural thriller for fans of Natasha Preston, Karen McManus, and Rory Power.

La Cachette, Louisiana, is the worst place to be if you have something to hide.

This tiny town, where seventeen-year-old Grey spends her summers, is the self-proclaimed Psychic Capital of the World–and the place where Elora Pellerin, Grey’s best friend, disappeared six months earlier.

Grey can’t believe that Elora vanished into thin air any more than she can believe that nobody in a town full of psychics knows what happened. But as she digs into the night that Elora went missing, she begins to realize that everybody in town is hiding something – her grandmother Honey; her childhood crush Hart; and even her late mother, whose secrets continue to call to Grey from beyond the grave.

When a mysterious stranger emerges from the bayou – a stormy-eyed boy with links to Elora and the town’s bloody history – Grey realizes that La Cachette’s past is far more present and dangerous than she’d ever understood. Suddenly, she doesn’t know who she can trust. In a town where secrets lurk just below the surface, and where a murderer is on the loose, nobody can be presumed innocent–and La Cachette’s dark and shallow lies may just rip the town apart.

Star Divider

Review

Dark and Shallow Lies is a riveting thriller that brings readers to the heart of bayou, where secrets abound even though half the residents of La Cachette are psychic. Ginny Myers Sain brings her setting and her story alive with a strong voice and a twisty plot that will have readers second guessing everything.

While I was initially uncertain about the psychic angle of the book and how it would tie in with the dark and gritty problems of a dead girl and her friend who deeply wants answers, everything ultimately comes together. The psychic powers seem real, but the holders aren’t omniscient, and protagonist Grey starts to wonder how often they’re a blessing and how often they’re a curse. There’s also tons of space for Grey to get in some real world investigation, talking to people want happened, exploring the area, etc. as she tries to figure how her best friend died.

The investigation itself is absorbing, as readers go along with Grey to find and sort through any available clues. It’s also refreshingly realistic. I felt as if the steps Grey takes to find her answers were ones a teenager could reasonably take. She isn’t some sort of teen Sherlock Holmes with a uniquely impressive mind, and she doesn’t do anything too wild that should probably get her killed herself or at least grounded for the next decade. She does what she can, relying on her tenacity and her deep love for her friend to guide her.

Full of heart, voice, and dark secrets, Dark and Shallow Lies engrossed me from the first page. And even though it’s a thriller, and I now know how it ends, I think it’s good enough to bear up to multiple reads.

Briana
4 stars